In the Land of the Morning Calm: A look at South Korea’s stress-ridden workforce

Digital Originals

South Korea is often referred to as the “Land of the Morning Calm,” but behind that scene of serenity is a workforce with a growing workload. CGTN’s Isbella Diaz filed this report. 

South Koreans average more than 2,000 hours per worker a year, making it the third highest country in the world when it comes to working hours, after Mexico and Costa Rica.

The problem stems from both corporate and cultural pressures. Korea’s corporate culture increasingly calls on young people to work overtime. While the standard workweek is 40 hours, many Koreans can surpass that by close to 30 hours. Creating a work-life balance is hard to achieve for many people.

FILE PHOTO: In this Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, file photo, a currency trader works in front of a screen showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at the Korea Exchange Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Koreans are also guided by the concept of “Noonchi” or “self-awareness.” Creating good noonchi involves the ability to read a situation and respond appropriately to the circumstances. So if your boss works late, you work late, even if there isn’t work to do.

FILE PHOTO: A car dealer stands in front of the logo of Hyundai Motor at its dealership in Seoul, South Korea, April 25, 2016. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo)

However, all of this could soon change. A new law caps overtime at 12 hours a week for companies and government agencies with more than 300 employees. Employers who force workers to stay longer face financial penalties or jail time.

The law was a campaign promise by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to change the country’s attitude towards work, and finally give Koreans their ‘right to rest’.

FILE PHOTO: A currency trader reacts as he works at the Korea Exchange Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)